26 November 2023
Pensions Authority Recent Activity
The Authority published a scheme survey in October 2023. The survey was issued in July 2023 to the trustees of 150 defined benefit (DB) schemes and 150 defined contribution (DC) schemes. The survey findings show that 68% of the DC schemes surveyed intend to wind up and transfer to an alternative pension arrangement, whereas only 6% of DB schemes surveyed intend to wind up.
There was a low response rate from DC trustees and many DC respondents chose not to answer several questions. The Authority noted that this may indicate a level of non-compliance or lack of understanding by DC trustees of their risk-related obligations and it intends to monitor this position closely through its supervisory activities.
Trustees are required to carry out and document ORA at least once every three years, and without delay following any significant change in the risk profiles of a pension scheme. The Authority has published guidance for trustees on how to conduct their scheme’s ORA. The first ORA must be completed by 22 April 2024.
The Authority expects the guidance will be used to supplement trustees’ existing ORA process and not be used as a starting point. It also expects trustees to dedicate sufficient time and attention to the ORA as it is one of trustees’ most important responsibilities. The overall purpose of the ORA is to ensure members’ benefits are well protected and the scheme delivers good member outcomes.
The Authority states in the guidance that the quality and integrity of the ORA is the responsibility of the trustees and that, while trustees may engage professional advice to ensure that the ORA is fit for purpose, the trustees remain responsible for the design of the ORA process and the delivery of the ORA.
Trustees must have a documented ORA process to identify and assess scheme risks. The ORA process must take account of the scheme’s size, nature, scale, and complexity and the way the ORA has been tailored to fit the specific scheme must be clearly documented.
The Authority guidance states that the ORA should be documented in a comprehensive written report and include details of how the scheme’s risks were identified, measured and evaluated; what mitigations (if any) the trustees have decided to implement; how the ORA findings will be, or have been, integrated into the risk management of the scheme; and the planned date of the next ORA.
Mercer has a long-established specialist risk management team in place to support trustees. Please contact us for further information.
The new AE bill remains “on schedule” according to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and publication is expected before the end of 2023. The bill is expected to reveal much more about the structure of the AE system and how it will interact with existing occupational pension schemes and the implementation timetable.
The Department of Social Protection has confirmed that the commencement of the AE system is “on track for the second half of 2024.”
How might AE affect employers that already provide a pension scheme to employees?
Employers will have to ensure any employees aged between 23 and 60 years of age earning above €20,000 are automatically included into pension saving either via a central system operated by the State or through an occupational pension scheme. The central AE system is intended to exist alongside, rather than replace, existing pension schemes. However, employers will have a choice to make – they can either enrol in-scope employees into the central AE system or they can use their existing (or a new) occupational pension scheme or master trust. If they use a pension scheme, that scheme will have to meet certain minimum AE standards.
Mercer’s view is that meeting minimum AE standards using an employer’s existing scheme will almost certainly be the least disruptive option. Providing employees with access to both systems will likely lead to greater complexity and confusion, requiring additional time and effort – and increased costs.
What should employers do now?
It is important for employers to prepare for what’s coming. This means understanding what AE might mean for them, including the potential operational challenges, cost implications over time and how their pension scheme could be affected. Undertaking a high-level gap and cost analysis will provide an important indication of what employers can expect.
Mercer can support employers to understand the implications of AE on their business. Please contact us for further information
The Government has reiterated its plans to introduce key reforms to employment rights and the State Pension. New legislation to introduce these reforms is expected soon and due to be effective from January 2024. These reforms are being introduced by the Government to address increasing longevity that results in more people availing of State pensions for longer.
The measures include:
- State Pension age to remain at 66
- New legal rights for employees to remain in service until age 66 irrespective of what is in their employment contract
- New flexible options to be introduced from 1 January 2024, allowing employees the opportunity to continue working until age 70 and defer payment of their State Pension in return for a higher State Pension
- A move to a “total contributions approach” in relation to the calculation of individual pension entitlements
- Long-term sustainability of State Pension system to be addressed through gradual, incremental increases in social insurance rates
What should employers do now?
Longer working and flexible retirement will become a more significant issue for employers from January 2024 and employers will need to consider the implications of these reforms on their business. Employers should ensure that they have an appropriate approach or policy in place to address flexible retirement. They should consult with trustees of their pension scheme to assess whether flexible options will impact on the design of the retirement and death benefits being provided and whether amendments to the rules of the scheme will be required.
Mercer can support employers to understand the implications of the State’s new flexible options and the impact on their business. Please contact us for further information.
DORA was adopted by the European Parliament and came into force on 16 January 2023. It will be directly effective from 17 January 2025. It applies to all “financial institutions,” which includes occupational pension schemes with 15 or more members.
DORA imposes uniform requirements on financial institutions relating to the security of network and information systems and creates a regulatory framework for digital operational resilience whereby financial entities will need to make sure they can withstand, respond to and recover from IT disruptions and threats.
The main requirements for schemes include the following:
- Schemes must have a sound, comprehensive and well-documented information communications technology (ICT) risk management framework as part of their overall risk management system, including strategies, policies, procedures, ICT protocols and tools.
- The ICT framework must be reviewed at least once a year.
- Reports on the review must be submitted to the Authority on request.
- Schemes must have a comprehensive testing programme.
- Schemes should review any contractual (outsourcing) arrangements to ensure that they will comply with DORA.
It is expected that the Authority will issue guidance on DORA and pension schemes in early 2024. Trustees should engage with their advisors and put in place a plan for meeting these DORA requirements by 17 January 2025.
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